KARACHI: The Environmental Protection Tribunal has issued notices to the Sindh Environmental Protection Agency (Sepa) and others on an appeal filed by two residents against the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) approval granted to the controversial Malir Expressway project.

Malir residents Abdul Qayoom and Ahmed Shabbar approached the tribunal through their counsel asking it to declare the EIA approval of the project as unlawful and without authority.

The tribunal, headed by retired Justice Nisar Ahmed Sheikh, issued notices to the Sepa chief and chief executive officer of the construction firm, Malir Expressway Limited, for May 26.

The appellants submitted that Sepa accorded the EIA approval on April 6 to the Malir Expressway Ltd in alleged violations of the Sindh Environmental Protection Act, 2014 and Sepa (Environmental Review of IEE and EIA) Regulations, 2014.

Tribunal fixes May 26 as next date of hearing

They recalled that the project’s proponent submitted the EIA report to Sepa for its review and decision on Oct 13, 2021. Sepa held a public hearing on March 9 this year for which public notices were published in three newspapers, they added.

The proposed project is described in the EIA approval as a 38.75-kilometer-long six-lane dual carriageway that will allow a direct route for heavy vehicles from the industrial areas in Korangi and Landhi to outside the city. The location of the project as per the EIA approval is starting from right before the Jam Sadiq bridge on Korangi Road and run along the right bank of the Malir river through the Korangi and Malir districts terminating on M-9 near DHA City outside Karachi.

The appellant said being concerned residents of Malir district they attended the EIA hearing and submitted their written objections to the EIA report during the public hearing and also raised multiple objections to the feasibility of the project, assessment, findings and recommendations in the EIA report.

The appellants stated that a reminder was also sent to Sepa for informing them about the status of their objections and EIA review process but the authority allegedly did not reply to these objections and reminders.

The tribunal was told that after media reports about approval of the controversial project, the appellants immediately approached Sepa for obtaining a copy of the EIA approval and its decision made on their objections, as required under the 2014 Act.

The authority supplied the copy of the approval on April 26 but did not supply decision on the objections made by the appellant, they added.

The appellants’ counsel argued that the EIA approval to the Malir Expressway project was accorded in the alleged flagrant violation of the 2014 Act and 2014 Regulations, adding that Sepa and the project’s proponent had acted in flagrant violation to the scope and purpose of the 2014 Act.

The counsel highlighted that the project also violated the principle set by the environmental tribunal in the Arif Belgaumi case (Appeal No.10 of 2020) wherein it had been held that the environmental approval can only be granted and signed by the director general of Sepa, while in the present case the EIA was granted and signed by a ‘deputy director’, who had no authority under the law to approve the same.

Furthermore, the director general had no authority to delegate powers which the law required to the deputy director to do so, the counsel added.

The counsel pointed out that the project’s EIA was submitted by “Malir Expressway Private Limited” but the approval was granted to ‘Malir Expressway Limited’. He explained that under the Companies Act, 2017 a private limited company and a company limited by shares or guarantee were distinct legal persons having different rights and liabilities.

Sepa accepted the EIA report and started a review process for a proponent that did not exist, claimed the counsel, who added that the EIA approval was granted without consultation with advisory committees, which were required to be constituted under Section 5 (6) of the 2014 Act and consultation with advisory committees was mandatory requirement under the 2014 Act.

“The impugned order even does not disclose what objections were raised during the review process? What commitments were made by Sepa to address objections raised during the review process? Who were members of the review committee,” the appellants’ counsel said.

The tribunal was pleaded to declare the impugned EIA approval of the project without decision and communication of the decision on the appellants’ comments as unlawful and without authority.

It was urged to permanently restrain M/s Malir Expressway Limited and its officers and agents from commencing construction and operation on the project till the final disposal of the appeal.

Published in Dawn, May 17th, 2022

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